Scanning Retrospective, No. 5

Foresight Snippets – No. 5

[Originally published] 30 January 2001

  • The Untethered Campus
  • A Hydrogen-Fueled “People’s Car”
  • Living Under the Hole in the Sky

The Untethered Campus

The University of Oregon at Eugene has begun installing wireless networking points around its campus, to allow students with laptops and special networking cards to access the university network without being tethered to it. The speed of connection is quite respectable (11 Mbps), and the initial locations have been chosen around the student union — other public areas where students “hang out” are slated for future development. While not meant as a replacement for the wire network, this is an important trend in expanding methods of network computing access, and bears watching closely. Recent TV commercials have begun to trumpet the “freedom” of wireless networking in the business environment. Its relevance to tertiary education is being demonstrated by U Oregon.

Source: The Industry Standard,1151,18166,00.html

A Hydrogen-Fueled “People’s Car”

No one seriously doubts that our dependency on fossil fuels must be wound down — the only question is: what is the time-frame for doing so? The Shell Oil company (which is one of the most successful proponents of scenario planning) has long realised the tenuous and finite nature of its present commodity, and has started to re-position itself as an “energy” rather than “oil” company. They are looking seriously at the issues involved in moving from a finite, dirty fossil-fuel economy to a renewable, clean hydrogen-based economy. And they want to be well placed to take advantage of the shift. They have been doing their foresight homework diligently since the late 1960s when they foresaw the Oil Crisis and were prepared to deal with it.

One candidate for a popular “people’s car” powered by hydrogen is the so-called HyperCar, whose concept has been promoted by the Rocky Mountain Institute since 1991. It is designed to be a mature consumer vehicle, comparable to current market norms, with simultaneous improvements in energy efficiency in a number of key components, including power provided by hydrogen fuel cells. Propelled by an increasing demand from people around the world for a “clean” car, there are many centres now working towards producing a popular, consumer, fuel-cell car, some incorporating elements of the HyperCar concept. This highlights the fact that, as consumers, ultimately what we say goes. We can change things by voting with our shopping dollars. I’m looking forward to the chance to vote for clean and sustainable vehicle transport, any year now…

Sources: Royal Dutch / Shell web site,5028,29268-52214,00.html
Rocky Mountain Institute – HyperCar concept

Living Under the Hole in the Sky

The world is accustomed to thinking about “the ozone hole” problem as confined to Antarctica, and therefore “far away.” However, in Punta Arenas in southern-most Chile, with a population of 120,000, they are accustomed to ozone hole updates on their nightly TV news alongside weather forecasts. Between early September and late December each year, the ozone hole expands to such a degree that it sometimes opens up over this small city. School children have produced a Solar Stoplight to warn about “el agujero” — “the hole.” When “red alert” conditions happen, the residents are forced to wear extra clothing, sun-screen, sunglasses and hats.

This small city will therefore be a test bed for how human populations are affected by ozone depletion, and bears watching over the next 5 to 20 years. In the parlance of foresight work, this is known as a “bellwether” indicator. Complacent Northern Hemisphere governments may finally be starting to take notice, because ozone layer depletion has also been noted over the Arctic. While not as drastic yet, it presages that a very great number of people risk being similarly exposed, if any future Arctic ozone hole were to expand to dimensions similar to the present Antarctic one. The latest thinking is that it will be at least 50 years before ozone levels recover, if at all.

Sources: The Brunswickian
Ozone Depletion Frequently Asked Questions

Foresight Snippets are interesting, intriguing or weird things we find during our strategic scanning which may or may not have direct obvious relevance to Swinburne, but which do provide signals about what the future might be like. Brought to you by the Foresight & Planning Unit.

An archive of the Foresight Snippets and a list of Frequently Asked Questions are available at [deleted].

Copyright © 2001 FPU and Swinburne University of Technology.
Feedback is welcome. Send feedback to [deleted].

NOTE: In all the posts in this series, the original source URLs are left exactly as they were when published 20-odd years ago. This means they will almost certainly be dead links (or good ol’ 404 errors). I do not have the patience or inclination to follow-up or find any archived or re-located versions of those web pages (because, well, life is too short). But, if it really bugs you, I invite you to see if you can find archived or relocated versions of those dead-link pages. And if you do, let me know, and I’ll update these posts with due credit to your detective work.

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